Thursday, April 12, 2007

The case for Jewish culture

From My Jewish Learning
Why should anybody be surprised at the effect arts and culture has on American Jews? The fact that a music concert should draw people to the core institution of Jewish life, people that might otherwise never or seldom attend shul, confirms what should be obvious: that the arts and culture are nearer the heart of Jewish life, and nearer the hearts of Jewish people, than many community leaders admit. The 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, which indicated that more people identified themselves as "cultural" than as "religious" or any other category, further brings home the point. Our search for renewal and continuity should begin where people are often the most touched and inspired: the concert hall, the book of poetry, the film, the dance floor.

Arts and culture can help renew Jewish life because their dynamic, spiritual, and emotional nature can inspire individuals, create a sense of community, and provoke radically new ideas. This renewal can take the form of connecting with those outside the purview of Jewish institutional life, reenergizing those Jews within the community, and perhaps even bridging the gaps between different Jewish communities.

Although "the arts" refers basically to music, drama, literature, etc., "culture" is a much more difficult word to define. Often taken to mean the sum total of how a community articulates who and what it is, the sociological definition excludes almost nothing, and is too broad for the purposes of this discussion. I understand Jewish culture to refer primarily to the arts, as well as to the humanities and the exercise of the intellect.

The text of this laser cut is written by the Israeli artist Enya Keshet and speaks from the heart. The Hamsa (in the shape of a hand) is a symbol of good fortune, long life, and protection from the evil eye. The imaginary buildings around the text are a reminder of Jerusalem. She created this circular piece as well. More lovely Jewish art for our lovely Jewish homes!

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